Authors note: This month I am sharing an article I wrote for Steven Kotler and his newest endeavor, The Flow Research Collective (AKA The Collective). Stay tuned for a monthly installment from the The Collective
Every once in a while, something truly surreal happens in your life. This was one of those experiences. I hope enjoy.
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Welcome to The Flow Research Collective (AKA The Collective). I’m Dr. Sarah Sarkis, a licensed psychologist with a private practice in Honolulu (but I am Boston girl at heart). I have a masters and doctoral degree in clinical psychology. For most of my career, I have worked in the intimate trenches of the human condition. For the last five years, I have been consumed by the study of peak performance, excellence, and how we optimize our vessel to maximize our potential. This shift in focus, from pathology to performance, brought with it a new and exciting clinical audience. Currently, my clinical work is almost exclusively with C-suite level executives and other high performing professionals striving for the outer limits of greatness.
And one thing that I have learned in all this work, in the turbulent times we live in, is that two qualities—high performance and the psychological stamina to sustain it over time—matter more than ever. This is true for individuals, but it’s especially true for corporations—which is my focus here.
The longevity of your organization depends on these two components. What has become abundantly clear to me in my time working with these men and women is the dire need for every corporation to embed a Chief Performance Officer (CPO) on the front lines of a cultural revolution. The corporate level is really no different than the individual level; you just have more levers and widgets to manage. This adds complexity but it doesn’t otherwise alter the algorithm of human excellence. For the purpose of this article, we are going to look at only two of the many reasons why a CPO is critical to your organization’s growth, grit, and ability to adapt.
Shifting Corporate Mindset
Excellence requires a cultural and mental shift in order to sustain the miles needed to outrun your competitors. They are on your shoulder, you can feel their breath on your back. To keep your lead, the biggest shift that needs to take place is the mental one. This will be the single most important factor that occurs in the long arch of excellence.
But changing corporate culture and psychology is like turning a tanker; it requires skill, discipline, precision, and time. This shift includes changing the way we have viewed the role of psychology within the corporate setting. Traditionally, this has been housed within HR departments and the focus has been on areas of stagnation, pathology, and other venues of “underperformance.” This lens comes with stigma and shame.
It’s also expensive. Job turnover, work place disability (depression being the leading cause), and mental health care costs are a constant source of struggle for any company trying to stay conscious of the bottom line. History has revealed that despite our best efforts to address these swelling costs through corporate initiatives, EAP’s and the like, the numbers continue to increase year after year. That’s because you land where you focus your attention. That’s also why I used the word revolution in my title. This is a revolution that requires radical cultural change. Revolutions always include upheaval, uncertainty, and risk.
Rejiggering corporate culture requires skills that can only be spearheaded by someone who has studied the complexities of the human psyche, understands organizational transformation, and has trained in the science of excellence, grit, and motivation. The CPO has to truly change the way your team views growth, risk, collaboration, and performance.
The Power of the Mob
How many of you truly understand that every single meeting you participate in is actually a battle ground?
Alliances are built, others are broken, there are splitter groups and rogue factions present in every group I have ever observed. Worse yet, often to terrible detriment, there are “yes” people and the silent objectors. Confirmation bias, loss aversion, fear of change, and many other elements are the invisible shrapnel that make group dynamics so lethal. These are the malignancies that eat away at your ability to circumvent the power of group think.
All these factors exist whether you know it or not, and they influence the health of your corporate decision-making patterns. Without a CPO, I just don’t see a way through the current corporate “waters” without succumbing to these easily and mostly overlooked saboteurs. If innovation, creativity, and execution are your jam, a CPO will be the game changer in terms of avoiding destructive and stifling group dynamics.
Let’s also consider the upside of the power of the group.
When a group is healthy, supple, and cohesive, something truly intoxicating can unfold. Group flow flourishes in this type of environment. When this occurs the rhythm, pace, and outcome of group processes can be fruitful beyond your wildest imagination. It is estimated that productivity increases fivefold with group cohesion as the guiding dynamic. Productivity is one of the most important ingredients in yielding returns that are consistently above par. It turns out, group dynamics can also be highly lucrative.
This type of skill is both an art and a science; it can’t be taught in a seminar or learned from a book. It must be mastered through the age-old method of practice. The CPO must be proficient in both – the art and the science of flow – in order to coax its unfolding. As Keith Sawyer explains, “the key question facing groups that have to innovate is finding just the right amount of structure to support improvisation, but not so much structure that it smothers creativity; when that happens, groups find flow – and with it, studies show, comes more effective team performance, greater innovation, and higher workplace satisfaction. It’s good for the organization, and it’s good for its workers, too.”
Additionally, a CPO can use their vast knowledge of human dynamics to the predictive sciences. Working alongside the other team members, the CPO will be able to help design and select particular people, for particular groups, to yield a particular outcome. This kind of value is hard to measure because it requires quantifying the absence of squandered time, poor decision-making, and lost creativity and innovation due to group stagnation. The CPO lets you alter outcome by continuously tweaking the intricacies of the human process. Without this, you’re a sitting duck in the treacherous game of mob mentality. Enter at your own risk.
The Bottom Line
Who is this person in your organization right now? If a name doesn’t come to mind immediately, you are swimming in shark infested territory. And nothing chums the water like status quo and mediocrity. Nothing.